We all look forward to summertime: the slower pace, a relaxed routine, an opportunity to get away from the drive and push of homework, deadlines, and class management. But, as much as we would love to just push pause for a moment and linger through the hazy, hot, and humid days of summer, most of us also have a tiny little voice in the back of our heads reminding us of THE LIST. You know the list I mean. The one with every to-do item that must be accomplished before you start the process all over again in the fall. The ever-growing, never-accomplished to-do list that robs you of your opportunities for rejuvenation, recreation, and relaxation.
What if there was a way to make progress on some of these to-do items, while still enjoying your summer? I believe this is indeed possible by engaging in the restful learning, or scholé, that is part of the classical tradition of education! There’s no reason why you can’t enjoy some of your course prep by turning some of your work into leisure (scholé).
I’ve been teaching for seventeen years, and in those seventeen years I’ve never taught the exact same course load from one year to the next. This means that, just like many of you, I’m always in planning mode. We all want to make our courses as robust and interesting as possible, which means we can’t simply pick up the pre-packaged, purchased curriculum and teach word-for-word from a script. That’s not interesting to anyone. So, also like many of you, I am constantly on the lookout for material I can weave into my course preparations for next year. And in the process, I’m classically engaging and learning my craft.
Take, for example, two of my preps: my informal logic course and my rhetoric course. The logic course requires that I understand the differences between inductive and deductive reasoning and be able to identify informal fallacies, among many other concepts. And my rhetoric courses require that I have a firm understanding of the rhetoric process, schemes and tropes, and an ability to deconstruct an author’s “rhetorical fingerprint.”
My summertime passions, however, involve things like reading James Runcie’s fifth installment of The Grantchester Mysteries: Sidney Chambers and the Dangers of Temptation, or working with my neighbor to organize and prepare for offering a free art camp to the kids in our neighborhood, or working in my vegetable garden (we’re growing Purple Viking potatoes this year—kind of by accident).
Preparing for my courses is important, but as you clearly see, I have some equally important summertime activities that require my attention (yes, the Sidney Chambers mystery novels are necessary). So how do I reconcile these two seemingly opposed pulls on my time and energy? Scholé. As classical educators, we know we can find opportunities to weave in Truth, Goodness, and Beauty from all areas of our lives into the the various disciplines we may be preparing to teach.
As James Runcie reminds us in his first Grantchester novel, Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death, Canon Chambers “had to ensure that those in his charge took a long view of life and held their nerve. The race was not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong . . . ” (p. 34). I don’t know about you, but I see wisdom there—Truth, even. And this would be an excellent quote to demonstrate mastery of metaphor in a literary narrative. Since I keep a commonplace book (like I require my rhetoric students to do), I can refer to this quote when teaching tropes—metaphors specifically. Applying this quote to course preparations is an opportunity for me to find my work, hiding in my leisure.
Or take Canon Chambers’s thoughts from the second book in the series, The Perils of Night: “Easter represented the death of death” (p. 127). I could directly apply this quote for my students to analyze when we study the concept of equivocation in The Art of Argument.
Remember how I said that my Purple Viking potatoes were growing by accident? Well, that’s because I planted the spuds last year, and while I thought I had uprooted all of the lingering potato remnants from their bed at the end of the season, it seems I missed a few. And now, I have more than a few volunteers growing in the bed I planted last fall. It’s a terrific lesson to remember that the seeds we sow can be tenacious. When I see my students working hard next year, possibly even feeling stretched and tired, I might remind them of those tenacious potatoes I planted. Seeds sown and cultivated aren’t easily uprooted. The habits we cultivate in our studies will provide sustenance for years to come. What kinds of habits are our students sowing?
Of course, not every item on that lingering to-do list can be checked off by engaging in our summertime hobbies and activities. But, summertime can be a tremendous opportunity for us to find our work, hidden in our leisure. It requires us to reorient ourselves and attune ourselves to Truth, Goodness, and Beauty in unexpected places, waiting like hidden treasure to be discovered.
What are your passions and hobbies? And where can you wonder, be curious, and discover? I encourage you to find some rest this summer, and while you’re at it, find your opportunities to live scholé. You just might find that embedded in your restful pastimes there is wisdom that will enrich next year’s classes.
(And if you are looking for a great read, check out the Grantchester Mysteries. Runcie, whose father was the late Archbishop of Canterbury, was classically educated and even incorporates some familiar classical scholars into his stories: Dorothy Sayers, C. S. Lewis, and G. K. Chesterton, to name a few.)